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A long time ago (back when applicants had to – GASP! – hand-write their applications) in a land far, far away (upstate New York), some fine academic institutions decided to take pity on the cramping hands of college applicants by creating a standardized form to help students streamline the application process. This great work of organizational efficiency was called, wait for it, The Common Application.
The Common App allowed students to plug their basic information, including family background, transcripts, and after-school activities, into an organized, easily photocopied format that could then be shipped off to schools across the country (we used to call that “technology”!). The Common App now serves as the application platform of choice for over 500 colleges, including, we would bet, many of the institutions at which you are hoping to spend the next four years of your academic career.
Technically, each individual college can decide whether or not it wants to assign the Common App essay to its students, but in our experience, most of them do. You will also have the option to submit the Common App essay to a school, even if it’s not required. Of course, in our eyes, this renders the essay non-optional (sorry folks!). If you have an opportunity to express yourself to admissions, especially in your own voice, TAKE IT!
We encourage you to dig into the Common App essay before any other part of your application because it is often the longest and most creatively demanding of all of the admissions-related assignments. Since more colleges see the Common App’s personal statement than any other individual essay, this is where you want to unleash your very best ideas. Additionally, many colleges that don’t use the Common App (We’re looking at you, Georgetown, you rebel), often require essays that are quite similar in scope and subject to the Common App’s essay.
In a nutshell, the Common Application is going to be a useful tool in the admissions process.